Rotherham United travelled to Highbury to face Arsenal in the Carling Cup 3rd round in October 2003…
The Millers do not usually fare too well in cup competitions. But in 2003/04, they put a decent little run together to reach the 3rd round.
In round one they knocked out York City by winning 2-1, before beating Colchester United 1-0 in the 2nd round. This meant that Rotherham had reached the League Cup 3rd Round for only the second time since 1985.
The only other time they did so was the season prior in 2002/03, as they lost in the fourth round to Blackburn Rovers. This time around, Rotherham’s run was awarded with a mouth-watering tie against Arsenal at Highbury.
This would be Rotherham’s fourth ever visit to Highbury. The previous meetings ended mostly in Arsenal’s favour, as the Millers were defeated twice with the other tie ending in a draw.
Rotherham had to be at their very best if they wanted to pull off a monumental upset. It proved to be a tense game as Ronnie Moore’s side took Arsene Wenger’s youthful team right to the limit…
Rotherham United Starting XI
For this game, Moore made just one change from the side that were beaten 3-0 by West Brom at the weekend. John Mullin dropped out in place of Carl Robinson in the middle of the park.
Wenger fielded a largely inexperienced team for this cup tie. Sylvain Wiltord, Kanu and Edu were only first-teamers selected. Jeremie Aliadiere, Gaël Clichy and former Miller Jerome Thomas made the starting XI.
But young midfielder Cesc Fabregas grabbed all the headlines. The Spaniard at 16 years and 177 days old became Arsenal’s youngest ever player as he made his debut against Rotherham.
In a game like this, it is important that Rotherham stay strong early on to remain in the game. But it looked like this tie could drift away from them as Arsenal took the lead after just 10 minutes.
The move started from the left flank as Clichy passed it to Wiltord in the penalty area. Wiltord showed his quality as he turned Chris Swailes to open up the Millers before he squared it to Kanu. The Nigerian forward neatly touched it past Paul Hurst to set up Aliadiere, who smashed it home with his left foot.
Rotherham could have easily fallen apart here, allowing the home side to stroll to a comfortable victory. But credit to Moore’s team, they held firm and piled the pressure on the Gunners’ youthful backline hoping for an equaliser.
The Millers forged good chances before half-time. Darren Byfield directed Hurst’s cross towards the bottom corner but Graham Stack saved superbly to keep his side in front.
Later in the half, Byfield was let in behind by Chris Sedgwick. He was one on one with Stack but the ‘keeper came out to meet him to save well again.
As the second-half got going, there was still everything to play for. Aliadiere had a fantastic chance to make it 2-0, but his shot missed the bottom corner by just a few inches.
Rotherham kept going forward pushing for an elusive equaliser. Byfield passed up a couple more chances as it looked like the Millers would be left frustrated. The 2nd tier outfit hoped to fashion one last opportunity in the 89th minute as the ball was hooked forward to Sedgwick.
The winger fought it off Kanu on the byline before sending a looping cross into the area. It was met by Byfield, who made no mistake this time, as he headed powerfully past Stack to send the game into extra-time.
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Rotherham was always going to be under the cosh in extra-time. But their task was made even more difficult as they were reduced to 10-men eleven minutes into extra-time.
Quincy Owusu-Abeyie was brilliantly sent in behind through a long pass from the halfway line. Pollitt came sprinting out of his goal attempting to stop Quincy’s lob.
Unfortunately, Pollitt was out of his area and clearly handled it to stop the shot. The ‘keeper was dismissed, and Gary Montgomery was brought on for Sedgwick to go in goal.
Rotherham did manage to hold on as it finished 1-1 as the referee blew the final whistle, so we were set for penalties. The Millers earned an early advantage in the spot-kicks as Wiltord missed his side’s first penalty.
But Mullin missed Rotherham’s 3rd penalty, with Owusu-Abeyie and Byfield also missing to ensure it was level after five kicks apiece. Arsenal and Rotherham produced a high-quality shootout, as they traded successful penalties as the score reached 8-8.
Swailes was next up for his second attempt after he scored Rotherham’s first spot-kick. This time his penalty was saved by Stack to give the Gunners the edge once again. Wiltord then made up for his earlier miss by firing into the bottom corner to win it 9-8 for Arsenal.
Arsenal went onto reach the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, but they were knocked out by eventual winners Middlesbrough 3-1 on aggregate.
It proved to be a fantastic game and Rotherham could hold their heads high after giving one of England’s best teams a real test. The Millers are short of great cup memories, but this night is certainly up there with the best of them.